When I have a problem, I am not one who seeks advice or comfort from an intimate friend. Actually, I find the very idea of “best friend” rather fallacious, and I can get squeamish when I hear people freely call someone their best friend. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe in confiding my problems to others that I’ve never called anyone my best friend; or maybe it’s exactly the other way round, that is, being sceptical about best friends, I’ve never looked for a listening ear among my acquaintances. What’s important is that I’ve never deluded myself with the possibility of bestowing that privileged status to any of my friends and I’ve always tried to solve my problems on my own.
I am indebted to a culture of distrust that I have absorbed from my surrounding environment. At heart I fear that the more I tell people about myself, the more I am likely to become the object of undesired attention and, in the end, criticism. The repulsion to stand judgment descends from pride, mixed with a degree of shyness surely. I mind my own business and live as independently as I can with the ultimate goal to defend my sublime individuality.
My primary school teacher once warned us pupils against the trap of notoriety. The limelight fascinated us children who secretly dreamed of becoming celebrities, but she planted a seed of doubt when she warned us that popular actors who show their talents to the great public and reap success, also lay bare their defects and are ridiculed by adversaries and gossips.
This aversion to the fallout of going public is an attitude in line with the reserved nature of people from my region. However, it is undisputable that once it decides to turn its back on someone, the public is capable of very little benevolence, and sometimes neither are those who we carelessly call friends. People often nurture base feelings of envy and jealousy that mar the most perfect relationships. These insidious motives can be so powerful as to make people forget the loyalty that is due to a friend, and even more to a partner.
Let me be clear. I am not superstitious and don’t believe in the evil eye, or the curse that is thought to come from grudging looks, but I do dislike being at the centre of other people’s attention. I like to be taken as matter-of-fact, seldom do I seek other people’s admiration and whatever I do, be it for the good or the bad, I do it for myself.
As a child I hated it when I overheard grown-ups talk about me, even when it was in appreciative terms. I felt judged and debased and I wished I’d never heard anything. If it was my mother who was relating some titbit concerning me, I felt doubly hurt because the special bond of loyalty that I expected from her had been broken. Loyalty has always been one my most strongly held principles. I try to give it to my friends and I always expect it from them, but I realise that a strict interpretation is not prevalent. The temptation of gossip induces people to speak freely, even of those who they call their pals.
There were occasional times when something burned inside me so strongly that I felt the urge to find sympathy in a friendly soul, but eventually I decided otherwise for fear that my words could misinterpret my feelings or that the listener could reveal the things that I had agreed to confide after such a difficult decision.
It is hard to put into words thoughts and feelings of which sometimes we are not even fully aware, but there is hardly any other means to express oneself. Foreign languages are even trickier because we don’t have a full command of their subtleties. My interest in languages may seem to clash with my reserved nature, but the contradiction is only apparent. A foreign language provides a screen behind which I can hide without sensing the true weight of words. And even more tellingly, I was enlightened by a colleague’s comment when years ago I disclosed my intention to start learning an Arabic dialect. “It is as if you had to talk to the whole world”, she remarked. I realised that I probably need to compensate an underlying attitude of distrust towards communication with enlarged possibilities of interaction.